What is Assisted Living?

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Photo: Brett VA

The concept of assisted living is relatively new, which helps explain why many people are unsure what it really is. Assisted living combines housing, and personal support services for elder residents who require at least some help on a regular basis. It’s the fastest growing long-term care option for seniors because it provides an ideal mix of services, comfort, and a reasonable cost.

An assisted living community should not be confused with a nursing home, which is designed around 24-hour medical care and services. An assisted living community may include a nursing staff, but the emphasis is on helping residents with everyday activities such as meals, dressing, bathing, and transportion. There are over 6,000 professionally managed assisted living communities in the United States, with nearly 500,000 individual apartments.

Services offered in typical assisted living communities

Photo: Wikipedia

The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) has helpful lists of what will normally be expected in a typical assisted living community.

  • Three meals a day served in a common dining area
  • Housekeeping services
  • Transportation
  • 24-hour security
  • Exercise and wellness programs
  • Personal laundry services
  • Social and recreational activities

While the community itself is important when making a decision, the services the staff generally provide are just as important. Below are the things you should look for and will find included in the majority of assisted living properties.

  • Staff available to respond to both scheduled and unscheduled needs
  • Assistance with eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, and walking
  • Access to health and medical services, such as physical therapy and hospice
  • Emergency call systems for each resident’s apartment
  • Medication management
  • Care for residents with cognitive impairments

Assisted living is different than independent living

While it might seem obvious to some, it’s important to make the clear distinctions
between the two most popular senior living options. Independent living is another recently coined term that generally describes a housing complex meant for those 55 and older, which includes social and educational elements and usually fitness programs, exercise facilities and sometimes transportation. This is different from assisted living, which is meant for those who need ongoing help with various aspects of their life.

What does an assisted living community look like?

It’s not surprising that there is a great variety among the thousands of assisted living communities across the United States. In a more urban area it might be a converted hotel or located within a newer high rise building, while in the surburbs it’s more likely to be larger, only one or two stories, and rather spread out. Assisted living communities can have as few as 20 or so residents, or as many as several hundred.

Are assisted living communities regulated?

There are strict regulations in all 50 states, though they do differ a bit from state to state. In many states the staff will need special training and certifications, and in most states the communities have stricter building codes and fire safety standards. Check your own state’s rules to be certain all your concerns are covered.

The costs of assisted living versus home health services and nursing care

Among the reasons for assisted living’s popularity is that it’s a way of providing a great number of essential services at an affordable cost. Depending on the community, its region and its location, fees range from $20 to $250 per day, including housing, transportation, and other services.

Because assisted living communities can offer all of these features to a large group of residents with an efficient staff, the costs are typically much lower than home health care or nursing. It can be very expensive to maintain a residence while hiring a cook, home nurse, and transportation staff.

Is financial assistance available?

Residents of assisted living communities typically pay their full expenses from their own financial resources, and they are designed to be within the reach of most potential clients. Veterans and a few other groups might find they are eligible for financial help.

How to find the right assisted living community for you or your loved one

Visit our home page to find an assisted living community with our unique “needs based” search engine.